The Mage is Dead
Jin and Nina were standing side by side in silence, staring at the dead body lying in the open coffin in front of them. The girl’s pretty face was expressionless as always, however, her even prettier brother didn’t manage to hide his feelings that well. He was looking at his deceased father the way one looks at a hilarious, morbid meme.
“You’re too happy,” she whispered. “I can’t believe you’re unable to keep a straight face for just a few hours. You should have stayed at home with Sik.”
“I had to come and make sure he’s gone.” He gave the corpse a concerned look, afraid that the nightmares about his old man rising from the dead would come true. “I’m not going anywhere until I see that box buried deep in the ground with my own eyes.”
“How are you planning on taking over the business when you’re not even able to play the simple role of the grieving son?” she hissed.
Jin resisted the urge to roll his eyes at her. Even though the were grownups now, his sister was still acting like the annoying little girl his father just decided to bring home one day. She could never stop nagging him, could she?
“That’s the point, little sister,” he smirked. “I don’t have to play roles anymore. I’m free. I do what I want, and right now, I want to look at his corpse with the happiest smile on my face.”
She let out a small, sharp sigh. “You’re acting like a maniac.”
“What do you expect from me? It runs in the blood. Not everyone is so lucky to be adopted, you know.”
“Just try to behave, please. I know you have a sad face somewhere. Put it on!”
Jin was ready to tell her sister what she should put and where, but he was interrupted before he could say anything out loud. “Mr. Kim, Miss Blazhenkova, please accept my deepest condolences,” said Mr. Walzel, the manager of one of their father’s clubs, and probably the shortest and ugliest man on Erath. Jin could feel some bile coming up in his throat as he had to shake the tiny, mottled hand he was offered.
He hoped that Nina was satisfied with the *your empty condolences mean so much* face he managed to put on in less than a second. He was talking to the old man with the most genuine sorrow in his voice, and even though he wasn’t that of a talented actor, he wanted to believe he was convincing enough for Mr. Walzel and the other boomers.
He turned his brain off and ran on autopilot as they were schmoozing with all the old farts. There was no way he would survive those empty conversations with actual thoughts in his mind. He zoomed out completely, daydreaming about the vodka-martini he would reward himself with at the end of the day. He was already starting to get bored, when his sister’s sharp elbow in his ribs pulled him out of his trance.
“What the fuck?” He turned to her with a disapproving look, but Nina didn’t even look at him. Her blue eyes were fixed on the tall young man standing near the entrance.
As he saw him, Jin suddenly felt his stomach sink. “What is that motherfucker doing here? How dare he?” he hissed. He swallowed hard and clenched his fists, taking an unconscious step forward.
“Wait!” Nina jumped in front of him quickly and put a firm hand on his chest to hold him back. “Let me handle this, please.”
“Nina, that bastard-,” he started, but she cut him off.
“He’s probably here because of the investigation,” she whispered. “Let me do the talking first. If that doesn’t work out, you’re free to make a scene. Alright?”
Jin finally managed to switch his brain back on. He trusted the girl’s conflict resolution skills way more than he trusted his own, so he agreed with a nod. He followed her in silence, already biting his tongue.
“Detective Lim, can we please have a word with you outside?” Nina grabbed the man’s upper arm and dragged him to the almost empty corridor.
The detective complied without protest, staying cool and collected as usual. “Nina, you look great, I love the new hair. I see you went back to black, suits you. And Kwangjin-,” he started but the girl interrupted him quickly.
“Thank you, detective. I appreciate your kind words, but I’m afraid I have to ask you to leave,” she said firmly as she unconsciously flipped a long strand of hair behind her shoulder. “This is a private event. We wish to say goodbye to our father in a small circle of our closest friends and relatives. We explicitly asked the police not to show up.”
“I know, that’s why I came as a private person.” He looked down at her with a calm but determined expression on his wide, heart-shaped face. “I need to talk to you.”
Jin knew exactly what the man wanted to talk about and felt like he wouldn’t be able to keep quiet much longer. He was fighting the oddest mix of anger and apprehension swirling in his stomach. Luckily, his sister was well aware of the effect the detective had on him and was persistent in making the man leave as fast as possible.
“You’ll have to find another time,” Nina shook her head slightly. “I already told your colleague; further interrogation must wait. We’ve just lost our father. We’re very upset right now.”
“Yeah, I can imagine,” the man scoffed. “Look, I know you don’t trust me and think that I had something to do with Mr. Kim’s death, but I didn’t, I swear. Do you really believe I would be able to do something like that to your family? To you, Jin?
A shiver ran down Jin’s spine as he heard the man saying his name. He needed all his self-control to avoid his eyes and keep quiet.
“We don’t-,” Nina paused and gave her brother a concerned look. “I don’t know. I don’t know what to think, Eric, but I suppose you saw that note yourself. Your mother is an obvious suspect, and you still took the case. You cannot blame us for thinking you were involved.”
“I know, but I wasn’t. You have to believe me!” The man was losing control over his voice, so he paused, running a hand through his short, silver hair in frustration. “Jin, please, just talk to me!”
Eric’s words felt like a kick in the stomach. Jin looked at her sister, hoping that her impressively talented inner diplomat would know what to say, but she was silent, hesitating. He almost felt how she was also starting to feel sorry for the man. “I’m afraid you two will have to work this out some time later. You should leave now. I’m sorry.” She said finally and turned to walk away, but he reached out to stop her.
His sister’s death glare was already there to make him back off, but as Jin saw Eric’s long fingers wrap around her wrist he lost his patience. “Don’t you dare touch my sister you son of a bitch!” he shouted and grabbed Eric’s shirt to slam him against the wall.
He regretted his instinctive reaction immediately. His rational mind knew very well that the man could easily take him down. He was already bracing himself for the counterattack, but to his surprise, Eric didn’t even move.
“You know very well that I’m not interested in touching anyone’s sister,” he said quietly, his gray eyes boring into Jin’s in a way that made him want to cry.
“Oh, for God’s sake,” Nina rolled her eyes and waved at the bodyguards, who were standing completely unbothered just a few feet away. “Excuse me, overpaid security staff! We obviously need a little help here!”
Eric was waiting patiently as a slow, robust guy peeled Jin off of him. He straightened up and fixed his tie, his eyes never leaving his attacker. His gaze was calm again, almost cold.
“I see your sister didn’t lie when she said you were distressed. I have to apologize. I didn’t realize my presence would upset you so much. I will reach out to you later. Please, accept my deepest condolences.” He gave both of them a curt nod and headed to the exit. Jin was contemplating whether to follow him, but before he could make the wrong decision, Nina took his arm and dragged him back to the parlour.
Fortunately, nothing interesting happened after that. Jin successfully delivered the moving speech that his sister had written instead of him, and their old man was finally put into the ground. Soon, they found themselves at home in Mr. Kim’s old office with the well-earned vodka martinis in their hands.
“Pour me another one too, will you?” Jin massaged his forehead and leaned back in one of the large black leather armchairs that, alongside two similar couches, made up the office’s meeting area.
“Sure.” She handed him a full glass and sat down opposite him.
“Thank you,” he sighed and downed half of his drink, frowning at how sweet it was, but didn’t mention it. “It was an exhausting day.”
Nina agreed with a silent nod.
“I swear to God, there was a record number of hypocrites at this funeral. They drained me completely. Especially father’s business buddies. Did they really think that I would fall for their fake condolences?”
“They had to show up, you know that too,” she muttered while staring down at her own drink, stroking around the rim of her glass with her middle finger.
Jin rolled his dark eyes. “Really? Was it that necessary to torture me with their sweaty handshakes? It’s obvious that they’re as happy about his death as everyone else in this damn city. They aren’t sorry about our loss one bit.”
“We aren’t sorry about our loss either.”
“Yes, but they don’t know that.”
“Maybe they wanted to dance on his grave, just like you.” The girl shrugged and put down her glass on the mahogany coffee table in front of them. “If that’s the case, you already have something in common, which’s great. From now on, they’re your business buddies, after all.”
Jin felt his stomach sink again. “Please don’t make me face that. I don’t even want to see those people anymore, I have absolutely no idea how I’m going to work with them.”
The man almost jumped in his seat as his sister suddenly stepped in front of him, leaning forward to pierce her pale blue eyes into his soul. “Well, you’d better figure it out, Kwangjin, because we need them. We need their experiences, connections, and – most importantly – their money. Do you understand me?” Jin judged it best to just nod quietly.
Nina took the deepest breath allowed by her dress, taking a moment to compose her face as she returned to her seat. “You must pull yourself together, brother,” she stated in a much calmer manner.
“Don’t worry, I couldn’t be more pulled together,” Jin said as he downed his drink. “Father is dead, life is good, I’m fine.”
“Good to hear,” she nodded. “Then, I probably shouldn’t be concerned about your little scene with Eric before the funeral. You must have smashed him against the wall in your great ‘pulled-togetherness’.
Jin pursed his full lips. He didn’t owe his sister any explanations. He was still too afraid of her to just leave her question unanswered though. “That was just a one-time lack of impulse control, perfectly understandable, I might say. It’s more than obvious that that bitch mother of his killed father, and he only got the case so he can cover it up. I bet he came to the funeral to throw suspicion off himself.”
Nina didn’t seem convinced. “Maybe he’s telling the truth,” she suggested with a shrug.
“You can’t be so naïve, sister. You saw the note yourself; he was killed for revenge.”
“So what? Do you really think there’s absolutely no-one else who could have written that? Every second person in this godforsaken city wanted him dead. I mean, come on, even his own children hated him!”
“No, you didn’t.” He gestured towards her with his glass. “And who knows? Maybe, he had some secret, illegitimate child somewhere, who also liked him for some twisted reason.”
“Don’t change the subject,” she shook her head slightly. “We’re still talking about Eric.”
“Yes, but I don’t want to talk about him anymore, so I started to talk about something else. That’s how a conversation works.”
Nina looked like she was resisting the urge to throw her drink at him and took a big sip instead. “Jin, dad was murdered. Do you know what that means?”
“Yes, he’s dead. We’ve just returned from his funeral.” He didn’t understand why she was being such a pain in the ass. They just buried their father; they should be celebrating.
“He’s dead because someone wanted him dead, and they wanted him dead for a reason,” she said like she was explaining trigonometry to a three-year-old. “And yes, it was for revenge. But what if killing him wasn’t enough and they want one of us dead as well? What is more, they might want something else too.”
“I don’t know, something they can get a hand on way easier now that he’s gone. Like his business or his money.”
Jin stared at his drink, processing the girl’s words. “Our money,” he muttered into the glass. He was starting to see her point, but he didn’t want to admit it.
“Exactly,” she nodded. “Either way, we’re not safe until we know who’s behind his murder. And the best way to find that out is to get close to the detective on the case instead of pinning him against walls.”
“But what if it was Mrs. Lim? Or Eric himself?” Jin furrowed his dark brows.
“You can find that out as well,” she shrugged. “You just have to get close to him again.”
Jin wondered how the previous “we” became “you” so suddenly. He scoffed and downed his drink. “You’re crazy,” he muttered.
“No, Jin, I’m not crazy.” She leaned a bit forward and looked into his eyes. She frowned and pressed her lips together slightly, putting on her frightened face. “I’m just worried.”
He looked away and heaved a deep, frustrated sigh while massaging his forehead. He just couldn’t believe that after all these years he was still unable to resist his sister’s emotional manipulation completely. “Okay, you know what? Let me think about it.”
“Thank you,” she said quietly and stood up. “I’m going to check up on Sik now.”
“I wouldn’t bother him,” he shook his head. “I think he’s not alone.”
“Alright, I’ll leave him until the morning then. I’m going straight to bed then. Are you staying?”
“Okay, but don’t stay up too late. Felix and the club managers are coming over for a meeting tomorrow morning. You didn’t forget about that, did you?”
“No, of course not,” Jin lied and stood up to mix himself another drink as her sister closed the door behind herself. He made himself a more vodka than martini, and slowly walked over to the large swivel chair behind the desk. He let out a small sigh and looked around the spacious room.
It was a strange sight. He used to think that his father’s office was the most important and interesting place in the world, but now it just looked like an ordinary room. When he was little, after putting him to bed, his mother always went down to the kitchen to have a secret happy hour with her own well-deserved drinks. Then, he sneaked out of his room and kept creeping around the office door, hoping that he would hear something exciting.
He rubbed his eyes and shook his head to keep his memoires at bay, but it was too late. He was already feeling like the six-year-old boy, interrupting one of his father’s late-night meetings from more than twenty years ago.
“Father?” little Jin muttered as he was staring at the dim light coming from beneath the door of the office. Unlike now, he used to be immensely interested in his dad’s business when he was little and wanted to get involved as much as possible. He reached up for the golden door handle, pushed the heavy door slightly open and peaked inside. “Father?”
“Kwangjin, what the hell are you doing here?” The man jumped up from the big armchair. “It’s late, son, go back to bed!”
“Are you still working? Can I help you?” he looked at the young, ginger man sitting on the couch, and nodded. “Good evening, sir.”
“Hello,” he waved at him with a smile.
“No. No, you can’t. You should be sleeping. I’m sorry, Felix, it’ll be just a moment.” The man took Jin’s hand, gently pushed him out of the office and closed the door behind them.
“But I’m not tired,” the boy shook his head. “I can work at night too. Just like you.”
“Where is your mother?” He looked around the corridor and dragged him towards the stairs. “Min-young!”
“Min-young! Where the hell have you been? Why isn’t the boy in bed?” he fumed when the woman finally appeared.
“Sorry, darling, I was downstairs. I thought he was already sleeping.”
“Well, he’s not. He’s up and bothering me.”
“Oh, please, don’t say that in front of him!” The woman pulled her son closer and covered his ears. Unfortunately, her hands weren’t soundproof. “He just wanted to spend some time with you, he didn’t see you all day.”
“I have work to do,” he continued as if he hadn’t even heard her. “Get him back to his room, and make sure he stays there.”
Jin snapped out of the memory with a deep breath. He was staring at nothing at all for a couple of seconds then finished his last drink. He was already starting to feel dizzy, but he didn’t want to sleep. He knew that other, way worse memories were waiting for him in his dreams. He had to distract his thoughts form his father somehow. He reached for his suit jacket draped over the chair and pulled his phone out of its pocket. He managed to unlock it for the third try, opened contacts and started the call without hesitation.
“Eric?” he asked as he heard the sleepy voice on the other side of the line. “I’m sorry about today. Are you free tomorrow morning?”